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Getting Your Fair Share

Why pay retail? Download affordable shareware to experiment with various small-business programs.

Why pay retail? Download affordable shareware to experiment with various small-business programs.

Whether you are just starting out, trying to save money while building your business, or are simply bargain-minded, you can save a great deal of money by buying high-quality shareware. You can find shareware to meet all your needs, from word processing, contact management and payroll to accounts receivable, e-mail, and Internet access.

There are four categories of computer programs:

  • Commercial. Commercial programs typically cost hundreds of dollars. In fact, if you buy commercial software, you may find that you are spending more money on the package of programs needed to run your business than you'll spend on a standard desktop computer. Many developers of the most popular commercial programs bundle them into suites--typically including a spreadsheet, word processor, presentation program, personal information manager (PIM) and, optionally, a database-management system and other, smaller programs--and sell them at a substantial discount. (See the "Start-Up Mart" guide to small-business software in the May issue of Business Start-Ups.)

  • Trial or demo versions. Commercial software companies provide time- or feature-limited versions of their programs. This means that you can try out a full version of a program for 30 or 45 days, or use a version that allows you to add and modify only a few records. It is the software company's hope that you will want to buy the commercial version at its regular price.

  • Shareware. Typically developed and supported by small companies or individual programmers, shareware programs are inexpensive, yet often offer as many features as pricey commercial programs. Producers of shareware allow you to download their programs (transfer files to your computer) from their World Wide Web sites so that you can test them before purchasing them for a low price, usually $40 or $50.

  • Freeware. Freeware programs are absolutely free, with no time or feature limits. Sometimes, software publishers distribute older or "lite" versions (versions with fewer features) of their programs as a marketing tool, and some developers give their programs away as a public service.

Jay Biondo, president of shareware distributor Biondo Software ( in Morton Grove, Illinois, says, "Shareware and commercial software companies depend on the same factors to sell their products: price, dependability, technical support, ease of use, and program quality. Furthermore, users can try the shareware for several weeks without any obligations."

William Davis, president and CEO of Davis & Associates Communications Inc., a year-old Internet service provider and data-communications company in Jacksonville, Florida, adds, "People can download different programs and test them before deciding on a particular program. The costs of shareware are usually easier to swallow than the costs of larger packages."

When it comes to eventually getting paid for their product, many developers simply rely on the honesty of those who download their programs. (In order to pay for any of the shareware you plan to keep using, you usually fill in a form and send it, along with a personal check, to the shareware developer, or fill in an online form and provide credit-card information.) Other developers build reminders into the downloaded programs. For example, messages will pop up regularly and interrupt your work, or a window will appear to explain the shareware concept before you can start working. If you register, you get a real copy of the program without the pop-up messages or windows. The most sophisticated developers put a time limit on the use of the shareware. When you run out of time, they hope that you have become dependent on their program and will purchase it.

Will Margiloff, vice president of advertising and marketing at New York City-based Jumbo Inc. (see "Shareware Sources" on pg. 12 for further information), which distributes business programs and other shareware programs, says, "Shareware and freeware are economical alternatives to commercial software. They are cost-efficient and effective because they are inexpensive and reliable."

Because shareware developers spend very little money on advertising, you may have to devote more time to finding a highly rated shareware program. For example, you may have to read through many computer magazines that regularly rate shareware, or search the Web for reliable shareware sites, the best of which feature plenty of products and provide objective reviews.

"The advantage of shopping for shareware on the Net," Davis says, "is that the developer can always make the latest version of the software available."

"Start-up businesses need software to track inventory, manage their accounting needs, create business proposals, and manage their customers," Biondo says. "As a result, most business shareware is tested for both functionality and reliability by its users. A business operator selecting shareware from a company that has been around for a couple of years can be assured that the shareware will be stable and that he or she will have all the tools necessary to run a business."

I reviewed all the programs mentioned in this column. All are Windows 95 or Windows 3.1 programs. In general, you can run Windows 3.1 under Windows 95.

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This article was originally published in the June 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Getting Your Fair Share.

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